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Department of Psychology pres.

Developmental Brown Bag: Understanding Ordinary Minds Leads to Understanding Extraordinary Ones: Adventures in Theory of Mind

Dr. Henry Wellman, Harold W. Stevenson Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Research Professor, Center for Human Growth & Development

Abstract: Theory of mind is classically studied with younger children and focused on their understanding of “ordinary minds”—understanding people in terms of their thoughts, knowledge, desires, and goals which are often limited in being mistaken, uninformed, self serving. But children, and especially older children wrestle with “extraordinary minds” too. Artificial intelligence and robots for example, but also minds of superheroes, gods, and more. My collaborators and I have a long program of research on children’s developing conceptions of —robots, God, mind-after death, and extraordinary communications. I will overview several strands of this research to exemplify our approach and findings: developing conceptions of ordinary-human knowing versus omniscience, developing conceptions of death and an afterlife, developing conceptions of prayer in contrast to ordinary spoken communications. Some of our studies include “culture” in the sense of comparing, for example, children in the U.S. and those in China. But still more include the equally informative perspective obtained by comparing differing cultural and religious groups within the U.S., including mainstream samples (80-90%whom believe in God), devout Muslin groups, and devout fundamentalist Christians.

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